ARE WRIT PETITIONS AGAINST PRIVATE BODIES MAINTAINABLE?
The term Writ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a form of written command in the name of a legal authority to act or abstain from acting in a particular way. Writs are not new to the legal system, their existence commenced during Monarchy itself, i.e., the Monarch would send a written order to a person (government official) to act in a specified manner. As time passed, this authority to order a government official to act or abstain to act in a certain way has been passed to the Constitutional Courts. During the making of the Constitution of India, the makers inserted Article 32 and Article 226 empowering the Supreme Court of India (SCI) and the High Courts respectively to issue writs and gave the citizens of India a right to file writ petitions.
The term petition was added to the term writ, making it a Writ petition, which means a request by the people to the legal courts to issue a writ to a government official(s). Article 32 gives people the power to move the SCI for the enforcement of the rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution and also empowers the SCI to issue writs. Similarly, Article 226 empowers the High Courts in India to issue writs and the citizens to file for writ petitions. There are five types of writs, i.e., Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Certiorari, and Quo-Warranto.
The SCI in the case of Federal Bank Lt. v. Sagar Thomas & Ors. (2003) clarified against whom a writ petition cannot be filed. It stated that private companies, including private banks would normally not be amenable to the writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. Relying on this ruling of the SCI, the Allahabad High Court in the case of Arif Khan v. Branch manager Mahindra Finance Sultanpur & Another (2021) dismissed the writ petition by the petitioner stating that Mahindra Finance being purely a private body is not an authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution which defines ‘State’ as “the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.”
In this case, the petitioner sought the issuance of a Writ of Mandamus directing the respondents, i.e. Mahindra Finance, Sultanpur, to provide a complete statement of a certain customer ID to the petitioner with the due amount and to take the said amount in easy instalments. The court had to dismiss this petition because enforcement of rights of the Indian citizens can only be against the State (government) authorities and according to the Article 226 of the Constitution, the Courts can only issue writs against the government authority or government persons.
However, the SCI in the case of Federal Bank Lt. v. Sagar Thomas& Ors. (2003) provided an exception stating that a private body or a person may be amenable to writ jurisdiction only where it may become necessary to compel such body or association to enforce a statutory obligation or such obligations of public nature.
The fact that writ petitions can only be filed against government authorities or such connected persons and not private persons unless it affects the public at large or it is associated with a statutory body, is already known and the Allahabad High Court in the present matter has re-emphasized the same.